With a 14-point advantage and needing to finish only third in this weekend's Brazilian Grand Prix to seal the honours, Jenson Button would look to be the overwhelming favourite to clinch the 2009 F1 Drivers' World Championship trophy at Interlagos – but then if this season has taught us anything, it is to always expect the unexpected.
Button has led the title standings from the word 'go' in Melbourne all the way back in March, and on the surface holding 14 points in-hand over Brawn GP team-mate Rubens Barrichello and 16 over Red Bull Racing threat Sebastian Vettel is ostensibly a comfortable margin. However, there are other statistics that suggest the British star's fans would do well to keep the celebrations on ice, for the time being at least.
Off the back of a stunning early run of six victories from the opening seven outings, Button has not now triumphed since the Turkish Grand Prix in Istanbul all the way back in early June, and indeed in the interceding eight races has ascended the rostrum on only one occasion full-stop. His points total for that period has been just 24, compared to 36 for the in-form Barrichello and 40 for Japanese Grand Prix-winner Vettel.
That means that, whilst he may refute such notions [see separate story – click here
], the pressure is very much on the long-time championship leader, who appears to have tensed up since mid-season, and some fear may choke at the last. The Frome-born ace has not been helped by constant reminders that compatriot Lewis Hamilton surrendered an even greater advantage over the final two grands prix two years ago to miss out on the crown by a single marker to Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen – also in Brazil – and the wealth of support Barrichello is likely to receive on home turf in São Paulo could be just the catalyst to spur the oldest and most experienced driver on the grid onto even greater heights.
As for Vettel, Red Bull expects the anti-clockwise Interlagos circuit to suit its Adrian Newey-penned RB5 well, meaning that – allied to the fact that the young German will receive the wholehearted support of team-mate Mark Webber following the collapse of the Australian's own title challenge – if Button wants to put the destiny of the laurels beyond all doubt this weekend, he will need to rediscover his early-season podium form. If not, the battle will go all the way down to the wire in the inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix finale a fortnight later – when the stakes will be at the highest they have been all year. As RBR team principal Christian Horner has contended, F1 fans are in for a thrilling psychological conclusion to the 2009 campaign...
To have your say on who will ultimately claim 2009 F1 glory, click here